Palestinian Universities Under Occupation, February-May 1988
Abstract: 

As the Palestinian uprising became "institutionalized" in the spring of 1988, Palestinian education, officially banned by the military authorities in the West Bank, found new channels through neighborhood-organized classes for primary and secondary students: classes held in private homes. This development mirrored the course of the five-month-old uprising, which moved beyond confrontations between the army and demonstrators, to challenging the twenty-year-old structures of military power by the development of alternative structures by neighborhood and popular committees. University education, however, remained problematic, although faculty and administrators began to formulate new ideas to match the "new life" of the uprising. 

Penny Johnson, staff, Public Relations Office, Birzeit University.

Full text: 

As the Palestinian uprising became "institutionalized" in the spring of 1988, Palestinian education, officially banned by the military authorities in the West Bank, found new channels through neighborhood-organized classes for primary and secondary students: classes held in private homes. This development mirrored the course of the five-month-old uprising, which moved beyond confrontations between the army and demonstrators, to challenging the twenty-year-old structures of military power by the development of alternative structures by neighborhood and popular committees. University education, however, remained problematic, although faculty and administrators began to formulate new ideas to match the "new life" of the uprising.

Official Policy

In the first week of April, the military authorities extended the closure of all schools and universities through 8 May. [†] Two months previously, on 3 February, the civil administration's education officer had closed all educational institutions in the West Bank "until further notice." At that time, most universities received individual oral or written closure orders from the military governors of their district. In April, formal orders were dispensed with and universities remained closed under the general order, despite the fact that the education officer had no legal authority over private universities. Indeed, the education officer has no authority to close schools for security reasons, particularly private and UNWRA schools.

An additional burden was placed on the 8,250 government school teachers on 15 April, when the military authorities announced all salaries were suspended until 8 May. One group of teachers reacted quickly by holding an 18 April sit-in in front of the Education Department in Ramallah. Schools in the Gaza Strip have not been formally closed, except on specific occasions, and have opened erratically in the last three months, while the Islamic University in Gaza has remained closed.

Alternative Education

The mass shut-down of Palestinian education has begun to spur both institutions and, more important, the community itself, to develop alter- natives. In some West Bank towns, particularly the towns of Ramallah, al-Birah, Bayt Sahur, and Bayt Jala, neighborhood committees began teaching elementary and secondary students in private homes in early April; other towns quickly followed suit, with the notable exception of Jerusalem. Community classes to date have been less successful in villages and refugee camps.

Aside from the regular curriculum, new subjects-from first aid to adult education and pottery-have been added in some neighborhoods. These meagre efforts cannot replace formal education, if only because of the problem of accreditation; however, the drive for community education has stimulated new thinking about Palestinian education in the context of a sustained rebellion or crisis, including at the university level.

On 5 May, the unions of teachers and employees of schools and universities in the West Bank sponsored a day-long seminar in Jerusalem where working papers were presented on the crisis in education, alternative and popular education, and the educational future. Two papers propose new structures for university education: one by Bethlehem lecturer Jad Ishaq and Birzeit lecturer Ghassan Andoni suggests the British model of a one-year semester, in which classroom attendance is not required and there is a heavy emphasis on student self-reliance. The other, presented by Birzeit University vice president Dr. Nabil Kassis, proposes that the academic year be divided into smaller modules-perhaps six weeks to two months-to allow for greater flexibility in teaching and scheduling.

Birzeit University is seriously considering adopting the latter model of shorter teaching units. Acting-President Dr. Gabi Baramki said in a recent interview that the university "hopes to implement this new model when it re-opens," adding that the uprising had spurred the university to develop plans "to face continued closures and disruptions." The core of this model, he explained, is "using shorter terms and smaller numbers of classes, thus greatly increasing flexibility.

The Birzeit model does not include changes in the traditional curriculum of the university; individual faculty members at the various universities stress that the uprising has focused their attention on developing more relevant curriculum. Open university models are also under discussion, and Bethlehem University vice chancellor Dr. Anton Sansour visited Britain in late April to look at the Open University there.

In an April meeting with high school principals the Council of Higher Education, the coordinating body for Palestinian universities in the occupied territories, discussed the problems of the 13,000 senior secondary students who have taken only the first half of the required tawjihi examination. Without completing the examination by summer 1988, these students cannot be admitted to post-secondary institutions and universities in the next academic year unless internal regulations are modified and the Association of Arab Universities offers formal approval. The Council is considering seeking such approval in the next period.

The Birzeit University Conference

An audience of over 400 gathered on 25 March in Jerusalem to attend the opening of Birzeit University's international conference entitled "Two Decades of Occupation: From Resistance to Uprising." International and local scholars were invited to participate in two days of panels, roundtable discussions, and special forums on what Dr. Gabi Baramki termed in his opening address "a topic at the center of our intellectual and community concerns. "

The conference program, originally planned before the uprising, was changed considerably to allow for more relevant discussion and for com- munity participation. As Dr. Baramki noted: "in convening the conference, the university is fulfilling its proper role to discuss freely, to inquire critically, and to stimulate research and analysis on critical issues. The military authorities have never allowed Birzeit University the option of being an ivory tower, nor have we ever considered the university isolated from the community that surrounds it."

A roundtable discussion between local scholars on "The Palestinian Uprising: An Assessment" led to lively contributions from the audience. Among the international scholars presenting papers were Richard Falk (Princeton Univesity), Jean-Paul Chagnollaud (University of Nancy), Niels Butenschon (Oslo Univesity), Peter Gran (Temple Univesity), John Bunzl (Austrian Institute), and others. Birzeit University plans to publish a selection of the conference papers in 1989.

Defiance of Orders

University faculty, staff, and students made several attempts in early March to return to work in defiance of closure orders and in response to calls of the Unified National Command of the Uprising to return to campus. A long procession of cars set out on 7 March toward Birzeit University. After being halted at an army checkpoint, teachers, staff, and students descended from their cars and began a sit-in at the checkpoint. They subsequently wound through the town of Ramallah in a spirited parade, beeping horns and holding makeshift signs demanding the reopening of Birzeit University. During the same period, soldiers barred teachers and students from entering the two Friends schools in Ramallah to resume classes.

Faculty and staff at Bethlehem University succeeded in entering the university and have continued part-time use of the facilities, holding occasional lectures and seminars for small groups of students and faculty on matters of general interest. An upcoming May lecture, for example, will discuss "Psychological Warfare During the Uprising," and a March lecture briefed students and faculty on taxation regulations.

A number of school buildings were occupied by IDF units during this period. By late March, fourteen schools in the West Bank had been taken over by the military authorities for use as temporary detention centers or military headquarters: by early May, the number had risen to about thirty.

Detentions, Deportations

Accurate statistics on the number of university students and faculty detained during the last three months are difficult to obtain. Birzeit University reported seventy-five students and faculty detained from the beginning of the uprising on 9 December until 1 May, and the student senate at Bethlehem University tallied sixty detentions in the same period. It is unlikely that these figures represent the total number of detentions: in the case of Birzeit University, for example, detentions from Gaza are clearly under-reported and Gaza students make up almost 20 percent of the student body.

Nine members of staff are among the seventy-five Birzeit detainees, including five employees of the university's Service Department, who were swept up by an army patrol in mid-February as they were leaving work at the university's Board of Trustees building in Ramallah. The employees were finally released on bail on 20 March, after more than five weeks in detention, most of it spent at the new detention center at Dhahariyyah, and are awaiting trial on charges of participating in an illegal demonstration, despite a number of eyewitness testimonies as to their innocence.

Another Birzeit University employee, Walid 'Abd al-Salam of the Student Affairs Office, a well-known musician, was detained on 17 March and held in the recently-opened "Ansar III" detention camp (officially known as Kitsyot) in the Negev desert until his release without charge on 3 April.

On 20 March, the military authorities issued new regulations allowing any military commander to issue administrative detention orders and cancelling the established review procedure. By 1 May, Israeli official statistics confirmed 1,700 administrative detainees and human rights organizations estimated the number at closer to 2, 000. The sharp escalation in the use of administrative detention orders-imprisonment without trial for a period of six months-has noticeably affected the university community. Al-Najah political science lecturer 'Abd al-Sattar Qasim was placed under administrative detention in early April; the dean of religious students at the Islamic University of Gaza, Shaykh Salam Salamah received an administrative detention order on 26 April. Dr. Nabil Ja'bari, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Hebron University, has been under administrative detention since February, and was adopted in April as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Birzeit University has recorded eight administrative detentions of students and staff since the beginning of the uprising, including one female student, Rana Sinan.

The pattern of administrative detention has changed during the course of the uprising, from its use since August 1985 against community organizers and student leaders to its use as another form of mass arrest. In this new phase, university students are no more targeted than any other group of young people: indeed, the number of detentions, administrative or otherwise, seems primarily determined by locale, with residents of refugee camps the hardest hit.

Deportation orders, however, continue to be levied against members of universities or individuals targeted for university or student-related activity.

On 11 April, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) expelled eight Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and issued twelve new deportation orders. Among those expelled was Jamal al-Hindi, said by military spokesmen to have organized student nationalist activities at al-Najah University. Birzeit University employee Ahmad Jabr, a staff member in the university's Literacy and Adult Education Program, was among the twelve receiving deportation orders, as was Ahmad al-Dik, a former member of the Birzeit University Student Council and said by military spokesmen to be an organizer of the Shabibah, the pro-Fateh youth movement. Ghassan al-Masri was also accused of organizing at al-Najah University. (Other deportation orders were issued against six individuals from Bayta village.)

One Bethlehem University student, Mohammed Kamal Abu Khadir from Kafr Ra'i near Jenin, was killed by army gunfire in mid-April. Birzeit University has documented ten incidents of students having been beaten by soldiers after the announcement of Defense Minister Rabin's "force, power, and blows" policy.

Arrests at Hebrew University

On 18 April, the Arab Student Committee at Hebrew University held a rally to protest the assassination of Abu Jihad. After Jewish students from a right-wing campus organization, Gila'ad, began to harass the protestors, a scuffle ensued and the police detained eight Palestinian students. The head of the Arab Student Committee, Sami Sa'di, was later arrested when he attended a court session for the eight detainees. The university administration then suspended the Arab Student Committee for two weeks. Four hundred Arab and Jewish students and faculty members attended a rally held by Campus, a progressive student organization, to condemn the arrests and the administration's action against the Arab Student Committee.

"The Twentieth Year": Roots of the Uprising

In a special report prepared for its March 1988 international conference entitled The Twentieth Year, Birzeit University examined both its history as an educational institution during the twenty-year occupation and the "twentieth year," the academic year 1986-87. The report's findings on the "status of academic freedom and human rights at Birzeit University" in that year provide some insights into the immediate background of the uprising. The report notes:

In 1986-87-the twentieth year of the occupation-violations of individual rights [of students and faculty at the university] continued to escalate, with the tragic addition of three student fatalities caused by army gunfire, and an intensification of institutional harassment: Birzeit University suffered four military-ordered closures, including a four-month closure, and two large-scale army raids on campus.

As the report observed in its section on "Death or Wounding by Army Gunfire":

in retrospect the deaths of three Birzeit students by army gunfire in the 1986-87 year seem like a tragic dress rehearsal for the scores of deaths of Palestinian civilians during the uprising . . . [exhibiting] the same disregard by soldiers for human life and the same "battlefield tactics" directed against students that were later to be employed on the population as a whole.

Among the report's other findings were an increase in the number of restriction (town arrest) orders, with nineteen students and one employee served restriction orders in the 1987-88 academic year, and a 68 percent rate of detention without charge among university detainees.

Universities in Limbo

By 1 May, the more than 15,000 students served by Bethlehem, Birzeit, Hebron, and al-Najah universities in the West Bank and the Islamic University in Gaza had lost from a full semester to the entire academic year, depending on the possibilities of re-opening during the summer. In a 9 March press release condemning its third successive one-month closure order, Birzeit University wrote: "The order is an act of collective punishment against a Palestinian university by an army which is unable to quash a popular rebellion and a government unable to confront the demands of this rebellion for self-determination."

 

Penny Johnson, staff, Public Relations Office, Birzeit University.

† The military authorities reopened primary schools in the West Bank on 21 May on a reduced morning schedule.

 

Research and scholarship requires investment. Generous contributions from people like you allow us to provide invaluable resources as a public good. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

DonateNow

Read more